Spices and herbs are known to be extremely healthy, and also help build one’s immunity. As per Ayurveda, daily intake of spices such as mulethi can be extremely good to remedy throat infections. Mulethi, an antiviral and antimicrobial root is said to contain glycyrrhizic acid, which lends licorice or mulethi its sweet taste. However, overconsumption can have detrimental effects on the body and can even cause death.
As per a BBC report, a construction worker in the US state of Massachusetts was killed by his liquorice habit, doctors said. Explaining the 54-year-old man’s case, who showed no symptoms before suffering a cardiac arrest, doctors noted in the New England Journal of Medicine, how the glycyrrhizic acid in liquorice was to blame.
Dr Elazer R Edelman noted how the man’s habit of eating a lot of candy was to be blamed. He further stated that studies show glycyrrhizic acid – the active ingredient in liquorice – could cause “hypertension, hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, fatal arrhythmias, and renal failure” – all of which were observed in the patient.
Agreed Dr Udgeath Dhir, director and head, cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, and told indianexpress.com that excessive consumption of even Ayurvedic substances like cardamom and kadhas, a common phenomenon at the moment, needs to be kept in check. “The glycemic surge due to licorice, which is a sugary substance, caused a low level of potassium in the body leading to the sudden cardiac arrest in the person, most likely a case of diabetic ketoacidosis (when the blood sugar in the body surges and acidic substances called ketones increase to a dangerous level)” he said. He added how hypokalemia or when a person’s potassium levels in their blood become dangerously low, can cause death.
Dr Dhir explained how low potassium levels can cause spasms in the heart rate which can lead to arrhythmia or when the heart beats too fast, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm.
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While not more than one gram is to be consumed as per Dr Dhir, the man reportedly started consuming one and a half bags in the form of a liquorice containing candy.
As a popular sweetener, licorice is found in many food products in the United States, as per a 2012-National Center for Biotechnology Information study Licorice abuse: time to send a warning message. The study went on to highlight on excessive consumption is a risk factor that needs awareness.
‘Licorice is a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved food supplement used in many products without precise regulations to prevent toxicity. Increased awareness among the public is required through TV commercials, newspapers, internet sites, magazines and product labels regarding the upper limit of ingestion and health hazards associated with excess intake,’ read the study.
Mentioning that licorice is not used in India in candies and sweets, Dr Dhir said that Indians mostly happen to consume it for its medicinal value. “It is advised by ENT doctors for dry cough or mild throat infection or is used as a condiment in food dishes or sometimes as a sweetener in Kashmiri kahwa. This means the quantity is less. Besides that, commercial products like candies do not substitute licorice which has a slightly bitter taste which children do not like much,” he said.
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